Yin Yang symbol

Most people have seen the classic Yin Yang symbol and know it has something to do with balance and opposites. And is related to traditional Chinese medicine or Taoism.

As you progress in your Qigong and Taijiquan learning journey you will here your instructor mention the terms Yin and Yang. This will be in reference to executing a particular movement or more specifically to the ‘energetics’ of what you are doing. So what does this actually mean? To help understand the answer to this, lets have a look at Yin Yang theory.

History and Theory

Yin and Yang is integral to the Chinese culture and has been so for thousands of years. It dates back as far as 700 B.C.E. to the I Ching or The Book of Changes – a text Universal in its understanding and representation of the dynamic balance of opposites and the processes of unfolding events and change, as applied to the microcosm and macrocosm of existence. Its a concept universally adopted in Taoism, and Chinese culture. The theory of Yin and Yang is also foundational to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM ), including acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine.

From Taoism it is said that yin and yang are born out of Wuji: a state of nothingness (non-duality, infinity, absolute nothingness, before time and dimensions), before the Big Bang as we know it. In class we stand in Wuji posture when commencing our Taijiquan or Qigong; a state of nothingness and no movement. This is also known as quiet standing. Then comes Taiji.

Taiji refers to the most primitive state of the universe, which appeared after Wuji (the infinity of nothingness). It is a non-separated state of Yin and Yang. It is the oneness after nothingness. In many Taijiquan texts, Taiji is often translated as ‘Supreme Ultimate’ and defined as the state of undifferentiated absolute and infinite potential, the oneness before duality. And it is from this state that yin and yang are born. In this context Wuji is sometimes translated as ‘Without Ultimate’. So Taiji ‘springs’ from Wuji, and is a pivotal function creating ‘movement’ and stillness; being the ‘mother’ of yin and yang.

It all starts to get a bit theoretical from here but it is the Segway into Taijiquan. I said above that Taiji is ‘a pivotal function of movement and stillness’ before yin and yang. The ‘movement’ is in the mind, it is our intention to move, but physically we are in stillness. When it moves it divides and when it is at rest it reunites. It is the inclination of the natural pivotal function which makes the Wuji into yin and yang and also makes the yin and yang reunite into the state of Wuji. This is referred to as the Tao in Taoism

Taoist painying

Yin and Yang in the Chinese culture is referred to as YinYang, it is a western contrivance to separate them. The reason for YinYang is to indicate the inter-connectedness and inter-dependence of Yin and Yang. That is to say you cannot have one without the other. The small dots within each of the two energies (represented by black and white) symbolize that there is always some Yin (black) within Yang (white) and vice versa. No matter where you bisect the diameter of the whole circle, each half will always contain some Yin and some Yang.

The symbol is the Taijitu in Chinese, representing YinYang and the constant cycling of the two complementary, inter-dependent and inter-connected ‘forces’ or ‘energies’.

All life and all things are produced from the mutual interaction of yin and yang through the mediating function of Taiji according to Taoism. They are two opposite yet complementary energies. What does this really mean? Although they are totally different opposites in their individual qualities and nature, they are interdependent. Yin and Yang cannot exist without each other; they are never separate. For example, night and day form a Yin-Yang pair. (Night is Yin and day is Yang.) Night looks and is very different than day, yet it is impossible to have one without the other. Both create a totality, a complete whole. The qualities of Yin and Yang are;

Nothing is absolute with Yin and Yang. The designation of something as Yin or Yang is always relative to some other thing. For example, day is Yang with respect to night’s Yin. However early morning is considered day but is Yin with increasing Yang, and late afternoon early evening is still day but is decreasing Yang with increasing Yin.

The theory of Taiji (which is the first part of the word Taijiquan – the martial art) originated over 4000 years ago and well established in Taoism and the study of the I Ching within China. So millennia later the theory of Taiji, yin and yang were applied to martial arts. They where adopted into the applications of martial arts and became a style, which was called Taijiquan. The translation of Taijiquan is ‘Grand Ultimate Fist’. It is this understanding of Taiji, yin and yang that is the basis of Taijiquan as an internal martial art. Without this approach and understanding Taijiquan or Tai Chi is just a bunch of external forms and movements, just another form of exercise.

Our Practice

As a beginner to Tai Chi when first starting out, we introduce the the notion of quiet standing before you commence the movements. This is when you relax the body completely, regulate the breathing and mentally quieten the mind into a state of nothingness. We are in Wuji posture.

The qualities of yang and yin are expressed respectively as; light and dark, soft and hard, hot and cold, up and down, left and right, internal and external and so on. In Taijiquan they may be expressed as substantial and insubstantial, relating weight distribution in the feet. It also represents the cycling from both those ‘polarities’

It can also be expressed within the body; the upper half from waist up is Yang – light, upward and expansive, and the lower body Yin – solid, rooted. From a martial application perspective an attacking movement may be considered yang, whilst a defensive movement would be Yin.

When commencing our Taijiquan we first stand quietly in quiet standing or Wuji posture. We should be in a state of nothingness; mind empty, body completely relaxed, no intention – nothingness. Then Taiji arises, it is our intention to move, to step out. The mind becomes engaged. We move from a state of nothingness to potential. Then YinYang is born as we commence our movement – Yin and Yang start to differentiate to perception. As we continue our form, we shift your weight from side to side, foot to foot and each part of your body is alternating from substantial to insubstantial – from Yang to Yin and back. When we come to the end of our routine we enter back into stillness and Wuji.

This is just and overview of YinYang and how it applies in our Taijiquan. This is a subject that has great depth when it comes to the martial applications and the movement of Qi in the body whilst practicing Taijiquan. A later blog post will look at how YinYang it is utilized and expressed in our Qigong practice.

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